The Swiss Life: A Very Basel Christmas

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Merry (almost) Christmas everyone! As I’ve spent the majority of the hoilday season in Basel, I felt that it was fitting that my Christmas post would be about Christmas in Basel (even if I am writing here from the US). Amidst the Christmas market hopping this season, I have made sure to spend some time exploring what Basel has to offer for Christmas. It’s truly remarkable how quickly the Herbst Messe turns into the Basel Christmas season. There is a lot to do in Basel for Christmas and I only did a fraction of it (blame my inclination to spend my weeknights with Netflix). Nevertheless, I think I had a pretty nice Basel Christmas season overall.
Christmas Markets

We have to start, of course, with the markets in Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz, which opened on November 22. The Münsterplatz market is pretty big, with a number of food and gift stalls. There are some good drinks and raclette up there, but my favorite stall there was the Öpfelchüechli (deep fried apples in cinnamon) stand. It was absolutely delicious. Shout out to the mulled wine with cherry liquor as well.

The market around Barfüsserplatz truly won me over, though. The small streets in that area transform into what can really only be the very best Christmas maze of food and shopping stalls. I was certainly at several larger markets this season, but there’s a certain coziness to the market that I didn’t get at most of the other markets.

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I should add that there’s a small but lively food area in Claraplatz, too. I had cheese-related food there on multiple occasions.

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Unfortunately, I learned about this one a little too late in the season, but Rheingasse is also a ton of fun around the season. The street is lined with food stands, trucks and, in one case, a double decker fish and chips bus. There’s less shopping than there is food and a lot of drinking, which is fine with me.

There’s a nice variety of food, too. You’ll get the classic Christmas market foods, but there were also some international stands. I made my standard mistake and food excited for the food early on, so missed some of the more interesting options later on.

There was also a parade of drumming Santas walking by as I was there. I don’t know if that was my good timing or if that’s a regular event, but it was pretty cool.

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Marktplatz and Rathaus

On Thursdays, there are jazz performances in Marktplatz. There are some food and drink stands nearby (obviously), so you can eat and drink while listening to bands perform for a few hours in the evening.

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The Rathaus is beautifully decorated for Christmas, with a large tree in the middle. It’s worth taking a short stop in there, if anything to add your holiday wishes to the Basler Wunschbuch (wish book).

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Food and Drinks

Unsurprisingly, food and drink is plentiful but expensive in Basel around this time of year. The selection isn’t quite the same as what you get at the Herbstmesse, but you still get a good selection of food and drink at the market.

As I mentioned, the Öpfelchüechli was the highlight for me from the Münsterplatz market. I probably only needed it once, but was still sad when the stall was closed for the night when I went to that market for the second time.

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There was plenty of raclette, glühwein and wurst, of course, and there was no way I would miss out on either of those while I was there. We had wurst at the stall with the talking moose heads, which was special. There’s also pretty good flammenkuchen flatbread in Barfüsserplatz.

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Several stands sold fondue-filled baguettes, which kind of operated as a fondue in a bread bowl concept, but could work as a good food to walk around with. Heed my warning, though. This stuff is messy. I got fondue everywhere – the floor, my jacket, etc. Worth it. There are several stalls that will sell this, but the fondue dog stand (which I actually initially mistook for fondue-filled hot dogs) was my favorite. I think the onions made the difference.

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There are plenty of your standard sweets as well. Other than the obligatory begge schmutz, I actually didn’t get too many sweets at the market this time. It’s probably because I’ve had so many Swiss Christmas cookies this season. They were everywhere and pretty consistently delicious. My favorite of the bunch are the cinnamon Zimsterne, but I also have a soft spot for the Brunsli. So good.

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What I Missed

There’s actually a lot more to Christmas in Basel that I missed. There is a big fairy maze that’s a little more oriented to children. There are advent activities around the theater and a Christmas circus. The little Rhine boats are open and decorated for Christmas. And, of course, there is the Johann Wanner Christmas store, which is a Basel institution. It’s supposedly enormous, but I haven’t yet had the chance to visit it. While I am sure it is especially lovely around Christmas, I can’t say I’m too torn up about missing this one. It’s open year round 😉

All in all, the Christmas season in Basel is a wonderful way to get in the spirit of the seasons. There are beautiful lights everywhere in the old town and the city is absolutely lively. There is something very special and intimate about it and I ended up comparing a lot of my other Christmas Market Tour stops to Basel.

And with that, I wish you all the happiest of holidays.

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A Day Trip to Freiburg

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I kept it relatively local last weekend after I decided to cancel the planned weekend in Nuremberg. It was a knee jerk reaction to the stories about the train strike that happened earlier in the week (although I was later assured that I would not have had to worry on the weekend). It’s fine, though. There was an important meeting on Monday that I didn’t want to come anywhere remotely close to missing, so it worked out in the end.

It also gave me a chance to finally explore Freiburg a little, which I had not yet visited despite how close it is. It was a quick but fun trip and I certainly didn’t want to spoil the tour I’m getting of the city next month. The train ride from Basel to Freiburg is pretty short, clocking in at just around an hour (there are fast trains but I was cheap). When I got to town, I was completely inundated with the feel of a university town. There were people tabling. It brought me back to my hippy UCI days.

I started at the big farmers market in the Münsterplatz. It was lunchtime, so I fell in with my aforementioned habit and lined up at a food stall where they were selling some wurst that smelled delicious. Also, the Historic Merchants’ Hall looks like the Rathaus in Basel!

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I walked walked around the farmers market aimlessly for a while before going inside the cathedral.

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Now, I didn’t mean to do this, but I ended up going from one market to another and quickly found myself at the Freiburg Christmas market. The Christmas market takes quite a few blocks of the city and, most important, is the first time in my 2018 Christmas tour that I have encounted rosé glühwein. It was an achievement of pure basic status and I’m beginning to think that I’m not ironically basic, but actually basic.

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After some window shopping and actual shopping, I also knocked out chimney cake from my Christmas market to-do list. It was pretty amazing.

From the Christmas market, I continued my explorations of the old town and saw some of the city’s canals along the way.

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My next destination was actually Schlossberg Hill and it took quite a bit of walking in one direction before I realized that I was going in the absolute wrong direction. After re-directing myself, I found the hill and made the climb up the hill. It was sweaty, and not pretty, but as you can tell from the photos, the view was worth it. I may taken a long contemplation break to think about what I had done, but at least I felt like I worked off a small part of that chimney cake, right?

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I made my way down and was going to stop by one of the city’s big breweries, but ultimately decided against it (mostly because it was crowded). I did run into more canals and even met Freiburg’s famous crocodile along the way.

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Having bypassed the brewery, I did realize I was a little cold, so I ended up warming up at a cafe for a while with some hot chocolate.

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The cafe actually took more time than I expected, so I had to make my way back to the train station for my train back to Basel. It was starting to get darker around the time, but I did catch some good lighting on the way out.

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So, there we go, it was a quick but fun tour around Freiburg, which is a very charming and cute city. I’ll actually be back there next month for soccer and have been promised a tour of the city, but I also had fun exploring on my own. This was a somewhat quick post, but I wanted to get this one in and hopefully queue up one more in between the long list of things I need to do before I fly back to the US tomorrow. At least I have Elvis Costello to keep me company through all this, right? While packing…not the flight. That’d be weird.

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Christmas Market Hopping in Vienna

Hello. It’s been a while, due in part to laziness. I promised a post on Christmas market hopping in Vienna, so we’re going to go back to Vienna.

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Vienna is one of the big Christmas cities and it’s hard not to see why. Christmas is everywhere. There are markets throughout the city, each with their own personality and style. Somehow in my short stay, I managed to get to seven of them. To be fair, quite a few of them are very close to each other and I accidentally stumbled upon a number of the other ones.

The hotel I was staying at for the weekend gave out one pager guides to the Vienna Christmas markets with a list of the major markets with hashtags (I know) to give a feel of what each of the markets were like. They were marked on the other side of the paper to give us a sense of where to find the markets. It was a surprisingly good guide to the Viennese Christmas celebrations and ended up being a valuable resoruce for the weekend.

The first of the markets was the Christmas market at Stephanplatz, right outside of the cathedral. It actually wasn’t on the list of the ones I wanted to see based on the aforementioned guide, but I ended up there because my walking tour ended near the cathedral. It was lunch time, so there were crowds around the few food stands at the market. I did a walk around it, but didn’t spend too much time there.

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The next stop was the market at Michaelerplatz. This was another one that I didn’t intentionally set out to visit, but just happened upon. This market is a relatively small one right outside of the palace. There are some small shops and a few food stands, but still pretty small. It wasn’t too crowded, though, and I ended up grabbing mulled wine to wait for my tour at the Spanish Riding School to start.

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The main market is the one outside of town hall. I actually was going to intentionally skip this one all together as multiple people had said that it was over-crowded and touristy. I wanted to see town hall, though, and it was near some of the markets that I did want to see, so I went anyway. This market is quite the experience and while it was probably the most crowded of the markets I visited this year, it was quite a sight to see. I don’t have a picture of it, but the skating course was especially cool.

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The stalls sold your typical Christmas market goods, but there were so many of them. The crowds were overwhelming in the main parts of the market, but there were less crowded off-shoots, where you could actually take a break from the craziness of the rest of the market and catch your breath. Or, in my case, you can take photos of cool things and get some absolutely delicious mulled mead.

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By this time, I had also made the decision that going to Budapest again without Chris would somehow be depressing and nixed the Budapest market plans. This meant that I could finally get the langos that I had been holding out for. In my case, I had a langos hot dog. It was delicious.

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The next stop on the itinerary was nearby at Maria-Theresien Platz. While it was still bustling, this one was not quite as crowded as the one I had just come from. I didn’t get and food or drink there having just had both at the previous one, but I did end up making some purchases at some of the stalls. This one was actually one of my favorites of the ones I visited, having a good variety of food, drinks, and shopping but not overwhelming like the one in front of town hall.

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Christmas @MQ (Museum Quarter) was another market that I happened upon on my way from Maria-Theresien Platz to Spittelberg. I only walked through this one to get from point A to B, but it was a very interesting change of scene from the traditional market at Maria-Theresien Platz to the very hip and modern scene at MQ.

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The market at Spittelberg was on my list as it was described as a #hiddengem and my tour guide had recommended it earlier in the day. It was a pain to find. I guess, let me rephrase that. The map was pretty clear about where it was, but I could not find it for the life of me after circling around that neighborhood for far too long. I eventually found it and was happy I didn’t give up. I was sad that I was pretty full by then, because the food selection was great. There were arepas, frites, burgers and some fried thing that I couldn’t identify but still looked kind of good. Instead, I grabbed a schaumbecher and walked through the market, where there were also a number of craft booths and boutiques. Had I not gone to the brewery for lunch that Sunday, I probably would have gone back to this market for lunch.

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Finally, I ended the Christmas tour of Vienna at the Advent market of Karlsplatz, which was both very children friendly (there were animals!) and what I would imagine an Etsy-sponsored market would look like. I was worried about time before my flight, so I didn’t stick around too long, but did browse the many many crafts, some of which were way too big for me to even consider bringing back to Switzerland with me.

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So, there we have it. Two days and seven of Vienna’s markets. The crazy thing is that there are a quite a few additional ones that I was unable to get to. I’ll survive, though. I think I got my fill of Christmas that weekend.

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Zürich and Miss Saigon

I decided that I needed a calmer weekend after several weeks of back to back travel, so I went for a weekend at home. Well, mostly at home. Saturday was full of errands and the Basel Christmas market (tried the fondue in a baguette) and Sunday was a trip to Zürich.

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This wasn’t just any trip to Zürich, though. I was in town to watch Miss Saigon. It’s one of my favorite musicals. I was almost crushed to know that I was missing the show’s stop through San Francisco, but then I found out that it was going to be in Zürich. In case you care at all, I just re-did my top 10 list for musicals and I’m watching number one on my list as I write.

In any case, I left a little early to explore Zürich, which I realize I have not actually spent any time in since getting here (airport trips don’t count). I had no plan in mind, really, and had just enough time to explore the city a little and maybe grab a quick lunch somewhere. There were small Christmas stalls everywhere (as one days), so I ended up getting hot mead right outside of the Münster and hanging out there for a little while.

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I walked along the street until I hit the one of the bigger markets in front of the opera house. This one was very food-centric and there were a lot of international food stands. I even saw a ramen stand that I would have considered eating at had I not seen the most beautiful two street tacos I’ve seen in a while.

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I didn’t actually have much time left before I had to head to the theater, so I walked along Lake Zürich for a little before jumping on the trams to the theater.

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I made it to the theater with some time to spare, which gave me enough time to find the merch table and my seat (which was pretty good, I must say). The show was fantastic. Horribly sad and emotionally draining, but fantastic. The sets were incredible (the helicopter flew!!!). One minor downside was that the people sitting next time me who were talking, giggling and checking Instagram during one of the most powerful scenes of the musical. For those of you who haven’t seen this musical or listened to the cast recording hundreds of times like I have, the first act closes with the main character singing to her young son about how she’d give her life if that meant that her son could have the life that she wants for him to the backdrop of refugees boarding a boat to escape the country. Milennials, amirite? Otherwise, the show was perfect, but I was missing my theater-going crew from back home.

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By the time I was out of the musical, it had started raining, which killed my plan of walking around the city a little before leaving. The show kind of exhausts you anyway, so I decided to just walk around the big Christmas market at the train station for a little bit. Between the intense crowds and the killer headache I developed right before the show started, I very quickly decided it was better to get onto an earlier train and make soup for dinner instead.

So, that was my day in Zürich. I’ll be back there, though. At the very least, Chris and I need to make it to the FIFA museum. Which, by the way, is my other announcement. Now that they’ve announced the group stage dates, Chris and I got tickets to see the USWNT in the World Cup in Paris next year. I’m super stoked about it. Talk about bucket list.

Anyway, that’s it for my short post.

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The Swiss Life: Five Months and Thanksgiving Abroad

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Hello, my friends. It is Monday and time for my monthly check in. I have returned from a weekend in Vienna where I went face-to-face with my first real experience with snow since getting here (not counting Klein Matterhorn because it’s always there). If it taught me anything, it’s that my boots are not well-equipped for walking around in the snow. At least I didn’t fall, right?

So, I’ve apparently been here for five months, which is somewhat mindblowing, and I have to admit that Basel has kind of started to feel like home. The food stalls and rides from the Herbstmesse have quickly (and I mean, quickly) been replaced with Christmas decorations and markets. The weather has gotten significantly colder (although, it’s been oddly warm today).

Thanksgiving has come and gone and there was a lot to be thankful for this year. A lot. This includes the assortment of things that were sent or brought to me, in part thanks to my previous post whining about various things I wanted. I have never before been so happy to see Tapatio and the Takis are, somewhat embarrassingly, almost all gone. Now I just need to go to Target and impulse buy graphic t-shirts when I’m back in the States next month…

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This isn’t the first time I spent Thanksgiving in another country. Hell, it’s only been two years since Chris and I had our Thanksgiving dinner in Phuket. This, however, was different. Thanksgiving was really just like any other day. It was a little strange to spend the day without any stuffing, pie or turkey, but it also wasn’t that bad. It helped to have everyone around, even if it was a very chaotic week in this very full house. And because this year has just been so different, Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t really the traditional sit down and stuff your face day. Instead, we went to the opening of the Basel Christmas Market. Well, Chris and I ate at the market. Everyone else had kimchi jjigae before we left and were, therefore, too full to eat at the market. Pretty typical, I’d say.

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So, that’s that. We’re barely into December and it’s turned into a little winter wonderland everywhere I’ve been. Christmas in Europe is certainly something else and I’m about half way through Alea’s 2018 Christmas Market Tour. You’d think I’d be done with warm alcoholic drinks after this weekend in Vienna, but I have several more stops to go. Also, can one really ever tire of mulled wine? Probably yes, but it’s not happening any time soon.

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